It used to be normal for people to work in the same organisation and the same job for years. Today, the rapid rate of disruptions happening at workplaces and shifts in employment models, have made changing jobs and careers a commonplace occurrence. However, it is not always easy – especially for mid-career professionals – to find new jobs. Tey Chee Kiat shares his personal experience with The IT Society on his journey towards a new career.
Q: Question, CK: Chee Kiat
Q: Can you give us a brief rundown of your career journey so far?
CK: I graduated with a diploma in mechanical engineering and did a few jobs related to that. Subsequently, when a friend asked me to join him in the tech industry, I said yes. And I joined the then National Productivity Board. Along the way, I picked up a degree in IT and moved on to Creative Technology, where I stayed for 17 years.
I had a good stint there. The job environment was conducive, the bosses were good and there were ample career development opportunities. But a change in management direction in 2015 led me to lose my job. From then on, I took courses and went on an aggressive job search process before I landed my current job at Phoon Huat. In between, I took on a four-month contract job at Singapore Business Federation.
Q: You took almost two years before landing your current job at Phoon Huat. Why is that so?
CK: Well, if it were up to me, I would have found a job long ago. But I would send out 30 applications, only to get five interviews. It gets a little depressing after a while, so I decided to sign up for courses while keeping a lookout for job opportunities. I also attended a few Workforce Singapore (WSG) career events where I found out about the Career Support Programme (CSP).
The CSP proved to be a great incentive for employers such as Phoon Huat who were hesitant about hiring mid-career professionals because of cost concerns yet understood the value of tapping on their rich experience gained over the years. The Programme helps to defray up to $42,000 of manpower cost for a maximum of 18 months whilst giving them a chance to assess the mid-career professional’s fit with the organisation in terms of skill sets and culture. More importantly, it opens up job opportunities for mid-career professionals – like me – to be given fair consideration for job openings.
Q: How is it like to work in Phoon Huat?
CK: To be honest, working in Phoon Huat is very different from working at Creative Technology. Back in Creative Technology, we specialised in very specific domains and operated based on clear protocols and processes. Comparatively, the work scope is a lot broader and more fluid at Phoon Huat. Being a business with both distribution and retail operations, we sometimes need to provide tech support beyond work hours and on weekends.
Q: It must have been hard. How did you manage to overcome the challenges?
CK: Yes, the beginning was really tough. Fortunately, my boss is very understanding. He was patient and receptive to my suggestions and ideas. He gave me the freedom to change things, like make new hires and acquire new resources. Thanks to his support, I was able to apply core skills gained from my Creative Technology days, put to practice the new knowledge I learnt from courses as well as experiment with new tools and hardware.
One-and-a-half-years on, our tech infrastructure at Phoon Huat is now stable. Our IT team has also grown from a one-man team to a four-man team.
Q: Sitting on the other side of the table as a hirer these days, what do you do differently because of your own experience as a jobseeker?
CK: From my personal experience, I found that many employers were too focused on paper qualifications and past technical experiences. As my work at Creative Technology was very niche, many of them felt that I was unsuitable.
Coming from that experience and noting that technology is always changing, I prefer to look out for transferable core skills and positive attitudes when hiring. If they have curiosity and a willingness to learn, then I believe it is just a matter of giving them an opportunity to learn their new role.
Q: Do you have tips for mid-career professionals who are currently looking for jobs?
CK: I would say stop trying to find a job that is like the one you had. Instead, be open to opportunities that come up. Then when you do attend an interview, be sure to communicate openly with your interviewer so that you can better assess if it is a job you can see yourself working at. And if you are out of touch with the latest industry developments, like cybersecurity and artificial intelligence, I will recommend for you to take the time to brush up your knowledge too.